My second military book that doesn’t deal with the U-boat service. The S-boats have always held an immense fascination; fast moving battles on the Kriegsmarine’s front line in western Europe, the Arctic, Black Sea and Mediterranean. A war fought by small crews usually led by young junior officers. This was an ambitious book which covers the operational history of all S-boat units deployed during the war.
The history of the Kreigsmarine’s S-boat service mirrors that of most naval components of Germany’s Third Reich. Involved in an unexpected war at a time when their service was barely beginning to recover from the previous conflict, it is a story of often startling military achievement against superior enemy forces before the long inexorable decline toward defeat six years later. Within these pages I have predominantly focussed upon S-boat operations within the chronology of the Second World War. Where applicable there are of course the developmental aspects of Germany’s S-boats, but to fully explore that subject would require its own book.
The S-boat, or Schnellboot in German, was the Kriegsmarine’s equivalent of an Allied Motor Torpedo Boat; small highly manoeuvrable and heavily armed motor launches that provided a coastal cutting edge to naval forces. With a main armament of two torpedo tubes (with a single reload available for each) the S-boats’ were primarily designed for the interdiction of coastal merchant traffic traversing waters unsuitable for U-boats. As we will see, they were frequently used in roles not entirely suited to their purpose by a Kriegsmarine that was understrength from the outset of the war. To the Allies the S-boat became the ‘E-boat’ for reasons that have never fully confirmed, the most likely explanation being that the nonmenclature stands for ‘Enemy Boat’.
Interestingly, although U-boat flotillas were loose organisational structures that largely dealt with logistical concerns at home ports, playing no role in combat planning, S-boats flotillas were closely knit fighting units; designed for the boats to operate in concert with one another. U-boats were lone-wolf hunters controlled from a central location in France or Germany (BdU Headquarters), whereas S-boats were subordinate to local Kriegsmarine commands; flotilla commanders frequently involved in missions, either as a boat commander or in the role of mentor to young skippers making their first war patrols.
The S-boat war had many facets. Not just a war against merchant shipping tonnage, it was also frequently used as the only viable means that the Kriegsmarine possessed of countering enemy naval power, particularly on the Eastern Front. Operating close to their various bases they became a devastatingly effective weapon in nearly all the Kriegsmarine’s theatres of war, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It was in the English Channel, however, that they scored their most notable successes, destroying some forty warships and more than one hundred merchant ships. In addition to interception and attack, they were also used for minelaying, landing sabotage troops and general escort duties. However, while it is easy to relate the ebbs and flows of such battles in terms of boat numbers and shipping tonnage, the humanity of the war at sea can never be forgotten. It remains a story of people caught up in the maelstrom of war, ships sinking in flames into a frequently unforgiving sea.
Originally published by Seaforth Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 978 1 84832 083 3
Available from the Pen & Sword website and other book outlets.
“Covering as it does an aspect of naval operations not previously covered in an accessible form this book is an important addition to the body of coastal forces literature, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the wars of the ‘Narrow Seas’. It is also particularly well written for an operational history and is quite gripping – difficult to put down once you have started!”
Battlefleet, Naval Wargames Society Journal
“A complete operational history.”
Warship World – March/April 2016
“This recently published work on the operational history of German S-boats is comprehensive and well written. Relatively little on design and development here, as the focus is, as the title notes, on operations.”
“This is an excellent account of coastal forces warfare from a German perspective.”
Ships Monthly, September 2016
“The history of naval warfare in the Second World War is a well-worn path, and it is refreshing to encounter a work that is significant and adds to our understanding. This is quite simply an outstanding book.”
Mariner’s Mirror – reviewed by David Bowen